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Technology and the city

Embedded at the bottom of this post is a great rapid-fire talk by Edward Glaeser about technology and the city. 

Technology has always been a fundamental driver of change within our cities and I like how Glaeser starts by referring to these forces as either centripetal and centrifugal. The car was an example of the latter. It spread us out.

At the same time, Glaeser points out that the car was really the first time that urban mobility patterns shifted from hub-and-spoke to point-to-point. Transit systems rely on hubs and some walking, which in a world of cars has led to something we call the last mile problem.

Also worth noting is the fact that Glaeser is terrified about what autonomous vehicles will do to our cities. His point is that the fundamental law of highway traffic has shown that vehicle miles traveled increases basically 1:1 with highway miles built.

So if all of a sudden AVs are able to decrease the cost of mobility, provide capacity benefits, and increase rider enjoyment (because you’re no longer a driver), vehicle miles traveled are going to go through the roof. This makes a strong case for some form of road pricing.

But it also means that unlike traditional cars, which were a centrifugal force, AVs could in fact turn out to be a force that further centralizes us within dense urban centers.

When you listen to Glaeser’s talk, you will quickly understand why so much attention (this blog included) is being paid to autonomous vehicles. They are one of – if not the – next great technology bound to reshape our cities.

If you can’t see the video below, click here.

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